While South Africa celebrates National Women’s Day, the debate about homophobia in the country has intensified since the recent murders of several lesbians.

Sizakele Sigasa, 34, an activist for HIV/AIDS and LGBT rights, and Salome Masooa, 24, were discovered dead at field in Soweto, Johannesburg, on July 8th. They had both been shot and, it is suspected, raped.

On 22nd July Thokozane Qwabe, 23, was found in a field in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal with multiple head wounds. She was naked and it is thought she was also raped.

Gay advocacy group Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to Thabo Mbeki, the South African President, stating that recent killings have highlighted that the constitution’s promise of equal protection is not being fulfilled.

National Women’s Day is a celebration marking the day in 1956 when women protested against the pass system, an apartheid policy which restricted freedom of movement.

Jessica Stern, researcher at Human Rights Watch, called for the South African government to honour National Women’s Day, “by ensuring those responsible for the murders are brought to justice and by affirming that all women, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be entitled to equality and safety.”

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is seen as one of the most progressive and liberal in the world.

It states: “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.”

Jessica Stern told queernet.org that “despite legal commitments to equality for all, lesbians in South African townships are still targeted for rape and murder.

“Poverty, prejudice, homophobia and sexism are building a new pass system, where many women dare not walk openly on the street.”

Police have not commented on whether Sizakele Sigasa’s sexual orientation was a motive for her killing. There have been four arrests in relation to her murder.